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The setting is more redolent of a pricey kappo counter restaurant than a cocktail joint, but that's only appropriate for this remarkable bar in Azabu-Juban. Working behind a counter fashioned from a bisected slice of Japanese oak, the eponymous Gen Yamamoto crafts cocktails as if he were preparing sushi. You're more likely to see him wielding a professional-grade kitchen knife than a cocktail shaker as he makes drinks, drawing on a range of domestically sourced fruit and vegetables. Everything is stirred and measured by eye – he explains that he only uses jiggers when customers order straight liquor – and the results, more often than not, are remarkable.
Though he's a veteran of the New York and New Jersey cocktail scenes – not to mention many of Tokyo's top bars – Yamamoto takes a highly individual approach here, far removed from either the US mixology boom or his Japanese peers' obsession with perfecting the classics. Though you can order drinks individually, his creations are best sampled in four- or six-drink tasting sets (¥4,500 or ¥6,500, respectively – if you're looking for cheap prices, go somewhere else). On two trips, almost everything we try is memorable: junmai ginjo sake gets mixed with pureed potato to create a cloudy, thick, umami-rich concoction; Kochi-grown ginger blended with imo shochu, Ehime lemons and a selection of herbs and spices is crisp and refreshing, like a homemade ginger ale; a simple combination of Spanish gin and pulped Shizuoka tomatoes, topped with a single shiso leaf, is so vibrantly flavoured it leaves us sighing with pleasure after each sip. The closest he comes to pulling any flashy tricks is when he rounds off one course by floating cold strawberry cream over warm Dassai 50 jungmai daiginjo sake; ‘the temperature becomes one of the tastes,’ he explains, and it's hard to disagree.
Yamamoto takes a connoisseur's approach to his ingredients, explaining the origins of each (in English as well as Japanese), and the menu is in a constant state of flux according to what's currently in season. With just eight seats, minimal decor and no background music, the atmosphere is hushed without being reverential, and first-time customers should quickly feel at ease.
1-6-4 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku
|Transport:||Azabu-Juban Station (Namboku, Oedo lines)|
|Opening hours:||Tue-Sat 3pm-11pm, Sun 3pm-10pm / closed Mon|